Sacha Lodge, Day 3: April 8, 2009

Any birding trip is bound to suffer from disruption, and our second full day at Sacha definitely contained a few. The original plan was to spend the entire day birding at La Providencia, an area on the southern side of the Napo River with an extensive trail system through excellent terra firme forest. This was going to be our best chance to encounter an army ant swarm with spectacular antbirds in attendance, such as the White-Plumed and Hairy Crested Antbirds, Black-Spotted and Red-Winged Bare-Eyes, and perhaps even Wing-Banded Antbird. Sadly, it was not to be.

Leaving the lodge well before dawn, we just made it to La Finca before a massive downpour started that would reach almost biblical proportions, not letting up until noon and leaving us no choice but to bird the riparian woodland and forest edge around the clearing from a dry observation deck. For over four hours, then, I tried to feel satisfied observing drenched Eastern Kingbirds and the occasional Fork-Tailed Flycatcher, knowing that for each hour it rained it was becoming less and less likely I would see the White-Plumed Antbird on this trip (stupidly, I had chosen this bird as my make-or-break target bird).

Still, this was the Oriente, one of the best birding destinations in the world, and our time at La Finca definitely produced plenty of birds, as well as a few surprises. The Scarlet-Crowned Barbet we spotted in the Cecropia trees was a nice find, the Orange-Fronted Plushcrown was lined up briefly in the scope, and the pair of White-Winged Becards was the only seen on the trip. Plus, I photographed this Black-Fronted Nunbird voraciously choke down a huge aphid. In total, we sifted through well over thirty birds this morning, most of which were active despite the pouring rain. I doubt we would have seen a greater quantity of species walking the trails at La Providencia; they probably just would have been better birds, so to speak.

Happily, the day wasn't totally rained out. We crossed the river for an hour before lunch, traveling by boat up a narrow inlet to the trailhead at La Providencia, spotting Lettered Aracari, Glittering-Throated Emerald, Great Potoo, Laughing Falcon, and White-Eared Jacamar along the way. At an inconspicuous spot along the banks, we stopped and got out of the boat to stake out the Black-Banded Crake, which showed beautifully at close range as it moved cautiously between the exposed mangrove-like roots of the riparian vegetation. Coraya Wren flitted noisily about in the tangle of vines overhead as we attempted to tape in the White-Lored Antpitta from the same spot; it was calling close by, but Oscar blamed the rain for its failure to appear. Traveling back over the Napo River to La Finca for an extravagant boxed lunch we spotted Pied Plover and Yellow-Headed Caracara on a sandy river island.

We crossed the river yet again to La Providencia after lunch to walk the trails, missing along the way at a day roost for the Long-Tailed Potoo. It was quiet along the trails, and we never encountered one of the daunting mixed flocks for which the area is famous, but we tracked down a few outstanding birds, including the Brown Nunlet and Ash-Throated Gnateater, both of which were found in their territories but still required considerable perseverance and skill to locate. Black-Tailed Trogon, Double-Toothed Kite, Warbling Antbird, Black-Faced Antbird, Fasciated Antshrike, and Straight-Billed Hermit were some of the other fine but less difficult birds that we ran into on our hike through terra firme forest. Oscar also heard an Ecuadorian Cacique at considerable distance, but we didn't manage good enough looks through a gap in the canopy to qualify for a sight record of this rare but rather unimpressive icterid.

The return journey back to the lodge was a series of misses: no White-Lored or Thrush-Like Antpittas, Brown or Purplish Jacamars, nor Slate-Colored Grosbeak, despite hearing each bird at relatively close range. On the other hand, it had been a solid day in terms of new and terrific bird species seen, and I was growing increasingly more impressed with our guides and the extent to which Sacha Lodge understood and accommodated birders. Aimee and I had essentially monopolized two expert birding guides, a large motorized canoe, and several boatmen for the entire day, just to have chance of seeing the White-Plumed Antbird, for what remains a bitter example.

Notable birds seen: Double-Toothed Kite, Black Caracara, Yellow-Headed Caracara, Laughing Falcon, Black-Banded Crake, Pied Plover, Spotted Sandpiper, Gray-Fronted Dove, Great Potoo, Common Potoo, Rufous-Breasted Hermit, White-Bearded Hermit, Straight-Billed Hermit, Glittering-Throated Emerald, Black-Tailed Trogon, White-Eared Jacamar, Brown Nunlet, Scarlet-Crowned Barbet, Lettered Aracari, Orange-Fronted Plushcrown, Fasciated Antshrike, Black-Faced Antbird, Warbling Antbird, Ash-Throated Gnateater, Yellow-Crowned Tyrannulet, Mottle-Backed Elaenia, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Boat-Billed Flycatcher, Gray-Capped Flycatcher, Fork-Tailed Flycatcher, White-Winged Becard, Coraya Wren, Yellow-Green Vireo, Blackpoll Warbler, Masked Crimson Tanager, Magpie Tanager.

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